Synergy: The Effect of Working Together

John Shortt

A Tale of Two Horses

My father was an Irish farmer. He had two horses whose names were Paddy and Bartley. Paddy was an old and disciplined animal but Bartley was young and independent. When my father was ploughing a field with them, Bartley sometimes wanted to pull the plough in a different direction from Paddy. When this happened, my father had to work very hard to get them to work together and to pull in the same direction. At other times, Paddy and Bartley worked happily together and progress with the ploughing was so much easier then.

I thought of my father and his horses as I sat listening to one of the speakers at the recent Hope 21 Congress in Budapest. He said that two horses working together could pull rather more than twice what one horse could pull alone.

The speaker was talking about the meaning of the word ‘synergy’. Synergy is a combined effect which is greater than the sum of individual effects.

The Greek word ‘sunergeo’ is used several times in the New Testament. These include references to ‘fellow-workers’ and to ‘working together’ in Mark 16:20, Romans 8:28 and 16:21, I Corinthians 3:9, II Corinthians 6:1, Philippians 4:3, Colossians 4:11 and I Thessalonians 3:2.

These passages show that we may not only work together with one another but that we may be workers together with God and He may graciously work together with us. What a wonder!

A Synergetic Activity

In the Education Consultation at Hope 21, we had a vivid illustration of synergy when we were working in small groups. The person leading the session gave each group a different question to start with. Each group discussed the assigned question, wrote down their answer and, at a set time, passed the question with their answer on to the next group. The next group read the question and the first group’s answer and then discussed and wrote down what they had to add to what was already written. This went on until each question had been discussed by several groups and each answer built upon the basis of what was already written.

The effect was different from, and better than, that of the alternative strategy of having each group discuss each question without reference to what others had done. Synergy in action!

Synergy in the Classroom

As teachers, we easily come to see ourselves as queens and kings in our own classrooms. We do not like to have others observing what we are doing with our students. We may have problems but we tend to pretend to others that everything is all right in our classroom.

A partner relationship with another teacher can be very helpful to both. We can commit ourselves to share the highs and the lows, to observe one another’s lessons and expose our own practice to the scrutiny of the other, to work together to find new and better ways of doing things. We are not really self-sufficient, we need one another.

We can also learn to work together with our students and encourage them to discover the effects of synergy in working together with one another.

Synergy in Europe?

As European Christian educators, we have different callings and different responsibilities. God does not call us all to do the same thing but He does call us to work together, to share our resources and insights with one another, to pray for one another in our many different situations.

John Shortt